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What would we do without Jack? We'd be 'Lost'!

November 4, 2007 | 12:14 pm


Fans of "Lost" and "24": Can you imagine a midseason without Jack Bauer, the castaways and the Others?

Both of those popular, highly serialized series have a lot to lose during a strike -- ABC's "Lost" has only half its 16 episodes ready, and Fox's "24" will have eight or nine out of 24. This could help the strike cause -- ABC and Fox would see their marquee shows suffer. But this weekend the people who run those shows were not feeling particularly vindicated.

"Because shows like '24' and 'Lost' are directly affected, that's the idea of calling an early strike," said "24" show-runner Howard Gordon. "But that's why it's my hope now to cut a deal, because, if not, it's a risky play. Obviously, it could go on for a long time. It's a heartbreaking thing for a lot of us because you feel so much loyalty to the show that you've spent so much time making. There are a lot of competing emotions right now, and it's hard. It has a feeling of an earthquake or a fire, a feeling of a natural disaster or a war. You don't know when it's going to happen or how long it's going to last."

"Lost" executive producer Carlton Cuse has even more complicated feelings. He sits on the guild's negotiating committee, lived through the 1988 strike and says he sadly understands why he might have to sacrifice the fourth season of his show.

"The preservation of this writing community is incredibly essential," Cuse said. "Everybody thinks it's a given that Los Angeles is the center of the entertainment community and we're going to always be disseminating our projects worldwide. But without a healthy and vital creative community, a community that is only sustained through the sour periods by residuals, that's what's necessary for this kind of community to thrive and for Hollywood to be our second-leading export behind agriculture. But those things aren't given. They aren't for certain. We need to create the conditions that allow this to thrive and exist."

At the heart of the dispute between the writers and the studios and networks is the desire of writers to be compensated for original and re-run work they produce for the Internet and that appears on DVD. Even when they're just starting out, TV and film writers can make a comfortable living, but jobs are not guaranteed, and survival often means living off residuals. During the 1988 strike, Cuse said he paid his bills from residuals from the first show he worked on, "Crime Story."

"We're talking about a community of essentially middle-class writers who aren't getting rich as a result of their choice of occupation," Cuse said. "They do it for passion and they just want to be respected.... The losses that we sustain in a strike will not be made up by this contract. This is a strike for the future. This is strike for future generations of writers. It's just a critical point in the evolution of the business."

Gordon agrees: "I think most people are not happy about striking but recognize the stakes and the importance of improving our share."

"Lost" and "24" run continuously without re-runs or interruption because producers and network executives have realized it's better for the fans  -- and for ratings -- not to break up the plot momentum. Because of this, writers on these shows are at an even further disadvantage, as they do not earn any residuals for on-air re-runs the way writers on most other shows do.

More news on the strike

-- Maria Elena Fernandez